Thursday, September 20, 2012
OU-KSU will be decided on lines
By David Ubben
Kansas State didn't knock down Landry Jones much during last year's forgettable 58-17 loss to the Sooners.
The Oklahoma quarterback wasn't sacked once in the worst loss of Kansas State's season. He finished with 505 yards passing.
That's tough to do in any context, but it's much easier if you have enough time in the backfield to write a midterm paper.
Center Gabe Ikard says Oklahoma's offensive line will need to be at its best against Kansas State.
Jones hasn't equaled those 505 yards this season in his first two games combined, convincing wins against UTEP and Florida A&M. One big reason why? Against UTEP, Jones was on the run constantly, forced to make rushed or off-balance throws.
"We’ve put up good numbers on offense but we need to play better, we can still be cleaner and protect the quarterback better. It’s one of those things where you’ll never be satisfied with the way you’re playing," Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard said. "It’s never going to be perfect, so you can still strive to get better, and that’s what we try to do every day in practice."
For Oklahoma, a lack of experience along the offensive line is one reason for the early struggles. Ikard is playing center only because three-year starter Ben Habern retired because of lingering neck and back issues. Guard Tyler Evans also will miss the season with a torn ACL, trimming Oklahoma's returning starts from 102 to 43. That turned the Sooners from the Big 12's most experienced team on the line to one of its least experienced.
"Some of the stuff is simple -- mental errors," Ikard said. "Some of the stuff is just being at your peak physically. You’ve got to just get better every day at practice. We work on technique every single day and worked on technique last week during the bye week. It’s been trying to correct our mistakes and trying to get better."
For Kansas State's defensive line, it could be a whole new ballgame, though it's going on the road for the first time in 2012.
In the Wildcats' biggest challenge of the season, against Miami, the defense notched five sacks. Only once in 2011 did the line duplicate that output.
Six Wildcats have sacks through three games, and defensive end Adam Davis already has a pair.
"We had played well and were showing improvement through the first couple of ballgames, but I think that we really struggled against North Texas. And North Texas has a pretty fine offensive line, but the University of Oklahoma has an excellent offensive line," coach Bill Snyder said. "So, we’re going out of the frying pan into the fire, so to speak, and that improvement we had in the first couple weeks needs to come back in a hurry."
If Kansas State is going to slow Jones and his receivers this time around, it will have to start on the line of scrimmage. A powerful running game that can slow the pace and limit the number of plays can be one piece of the puzzle.
The Wildcats' pass rush can be another. Sooners coach Bob Stoops has been impressed with the improvement through three games from Snyder's front four.
"Those guys are very active, play physical. They’ve got a good number of sacks, they get good pressure," he said. "They’re just a group that you can tell just plays real disciplined and plays tough."
Oklahoma's offensive line must answer with plenty of its own toughness, or the Wildcats will spring the upset and become only the fourth team to beat Stoops in Norman since his 1999 arrival and the first to ever do so as a ranked team.